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Brands are people too

If your retail brand sidled up to you at a party, what would you do? Be entranced and engaged, or run a mile?

Like it or not, brands are people too, and the best brands are like the best party guests – charming, smart, open, interesting, but also considerate and empathetic. (They know when to leave too.)

Great brands are never tedious – you can’t bore people into buying. They don’t scream – as the famous 1960s Young & Rubicam* ad put it, “yelling isn’t selling”. Nor are they schizophrenic – you know exactly where the brand stands, and what it stands for, consistently.

I’m a big fan of cleverly executed ‘brand language’; the tone in which a brand talks to its customers, and the words it uses.

 Done right, the language a brand uses makes an instant connection. And before you know it, you have bought in, both metaphorically and literally.

Even in this highly visual age, well chosen words are worth their weight in gold.Perhaps it’s my copywriter background, but I’m always on the lookout for brands that use language well.

 And I’ve seen some jeez-I-wish-I’d-done-that examples in the last couple of months alone:

Bolt Barbers, Los Angeles

 “Not cosmetologists. We’re Bolt Barbers! Dudes… Bolt Barbers is NOT a salon.”

Bolt is incredibly refreshing – anti-stylist, anti-establishment – and funny. It talks about “shearing”, not “hairdressing”.

The menu board includes listings such as: “For the brave willing to go bald by choice… $30”.It celebrates the fact that “people hate us on Yelp!” (a social media-driven business review site., and details the “salon basics (that) are unavailable”, including “lemon twist w/espresso”.

Strip, Ministry of Waxing, Singapore

While on the subject of hair removal, Singapore-based Strip caught my eye in Shanghai recently.

 “Marilyn or hairylin?”, a poster outside the store asked, with an image of a Monroe lookalike raising her arms to reveal hirsute armpits.

“Strip boasts over 2.5 million bushes beautifully pruned”. Strip is a little bit naughty, but clever and contemporary at the same time.

Strip, Ministry of Waxing, Singapore

Eataly, New York City

Eataly is a 4000sqm shrine to Italian gastronomy in the Flatiron District of NYC. Words are everywhere on display; coaxing you, informing you, entertaining you.

On the Westfield World Retail Study Tour in May, we learned that Eataly employed a copywriter solely to feed the signage instore, who studied the tone of the Italian founder.

And so you get some beauties like “The restrooms, naturally are near the beer!”

Eataly, New York City

Lorna Jane, Santa Monica

This Australian-based leisurewear brand brilliantly communicates the values and positive messages of Brissy girl LJ herself.

In the Santa Monica store, besides the ‘move, nourish, believe’ credo, I liked the mantra scrawled in what looked like lipstick on a mirror saying: ‘Sacrifice what you want now for what you want MOST’, and another on the front door, reading: ‘Live your BEST LIFE’.All these brands speak with an authentic voice.

Lorna Jane, Santa Monica

They don’t come across as commercial ventures constructed to sell stuff, instead they want to win you over… to make a conversion rather than a conquest.How does your brand communicate?

* Jon Bird is chairman of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks (, and also of Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail. Email: Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer
* IdeaWorks is part of the Y&R Group, which includes Young & Rubicam.

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